Reducing child labor in mining in DRC through economic empowerment

April 3, 2023
Members of a WORTH group in DRC gather for a meeting. Credit: Pact.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the largest mineral deposits in the world. This has unfortunately made the country a leader in child labor in mining as well, with child labor reported at 1 in 4 artisanal and small-scall mining (ASM) sites in DRC.

Child labor in mining is considered a worst form of child labor by the International Labor Organization, as it leads to many negative health, educational and livelihoods outcomes for children. Root causes of child labor among mining communities in DRC include financial insecurity, reliance on mining for household income, low levels of community awareness regarding children’s rights and the impact of mining on children’s health, limited access to quality education, and poor enforcement of mining and child protection regulations.

Pact is addressing these underlying factors in DRC by partnering with communities, governments, miners, mining communities and private-sector actors. Our program known as Children Out of Mining (COM) relies on a unique rights-based, child-centered approach and incorporates Pact’s WORTH model of community banking to promote socio-economic empowerment among mining communities. This is done alongside private-sector engagement and capacity development of local organizations to address child labor in mining.

WORTH has been shown to increase financial literacy, business development skills and household income, ultimately leading to households removing children from mines. Across Pact’s two DRC COM projects, we worked with mining communities to establish 26 WORTH groups with 799 members, of which 80% were women. Average monthly group member savings across the projects was $200, and group member loans averaged $168. Based on recent external program evaluations, we found that:

  • Community members are motivated to join WORTH groups to generate savings and access low interest loans, which builds on existing practice while furthering financial inclusion.
  • Combining savings and lending activities with skills building in financial literacy and business development enables members to invest in new or existing businesses, pay for their children’s education and contribute to community-led efforts to reduce child labor in mining.
  • Improved livelihoods allow group members to remove their children from the mines. For the two projects, 60% and 92% of members, indicated that participating in WORTH allowed them to remove at least one child from the mines. Community leaders also highlighted the benefits of WORTH, noting that it is one of the most impactful COM activities.
  • WORTH group members are able to better meet household needs, such as financing unexpected household purchases. One project reported a 23.5 percentage point increase in the number of members able to meet children’s schooling, health and food costs after joining WORTH.

These results show that WORTH is a powerful tool to reduce child labor in mining in DRC. While economic empowerment does address some of the root causes of child labor in mining, education and awareness-raising activities help to ensure children stay out of the mines in the long term. To this end, WORTH serves as a platform to share information and build knowledge, which improves trust and social cohesion among members. As a result, group members become empowered to contribute to important community issues, such as the need to remove children from mines. 

Importantly, as 80% of WORTH group members in DRC are women, WORTH also contributes to women’s empowerment and inter-generational impact by opening new pathways for members’ children to learn, stay healthy, contribute to their families and communities and realize their long-term potential.

While continued efforts are necessary to ensure sustainability and keep children out of mining in DRC, we are encouraged by WORTH’s vast potential to make a difference across the country and beyond. To foster cross-program learning and evidence-based implementation, Pact next aims to build on its successes in integrating WORTH into child labor programming through programming in Madagascar, Zambia and Colombia.

Luc Assosa, Amayèle Dia and Emma Willenborg contributed to this post.